Sharing Memories of A-Bomb Survivors
Jun. 2, 2015
People around the world are turning their attention to Hiroshima as the 70th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing approaches. One of them is Monica Braw. Over the years, the Swedish writer has helped survivors share their stories with people outside Japan. The anniversary reminded Braw it was time to reconnect with Hiroshima and again tell the world of the horror of nuclear weapons.
Braw returned to the city for the first time in 10 years. The trip was a chance to catch up with people, including one long-time friend.
Braw has been writing about “hibakusha” (atomic bomb survivors) for 40 years. She has seldom had the chance to visit Hiroshima but understands there’s no substitute for hearing from survivors firsthand. The writer wanted to find out more about the ongoing aftermath of 1945.
"Coming back here now, I want to have plenty of time to get the feelings. It was not easy to get the feelings, they have changed so much," she says.
Braw plans to write another book based on her experiences during her most recent trip. She hopes it will help people better understand what happened in Hiroshima.
She has asked an old friend for help. Keiko Ogura is one of the few survivors with good English skills. They first met in the early 1980s during heightened tensions of the Cold War. The world faced the threat of nuclear war, while the superpowers produced more and more atomic weapons, including cruise missiles.
Braw wanted to speak with children of survivors to hear how the bombing affected their lives. Kazuhiko Futakawa was born in 1946, a year after the bombing. He says he and many of his friends had trouble finding jobs and spouses. A lack of information about the effects of radiation led to the discrimination.
“How much it has been hidden, how much people had not wanted to talk about their experiences,” Braw says. “Often (the survivors’ children) are afraid of discrimination."
The writer also wanted to see how young people from other countries would react to the survivors’ stories. At a seminar, Ogura described her experiences on the fateful day. High school and university students from six countries, including the United States, Brazil and Canada, listened intently.
Ogura was 8 when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She was near her home, about two-and-a-half kilometers from ground zero. "The buildings were just pressed down like a giant had stepped on them,” she told the students.
One from the US said: "We haven’t met someone who lived through it, hearing the details and the life stories.”
A Canadian student, speaking Japanese, said: "By spreading the message to people, as Ms. Ogura is doing, and making sure they remember, I hope it doesn’t happen again.”
Braw insists that listening to the testimony of the hibakusha remains critically important. “When we think of nuclear weapons, we tend to think of them as strategically important or not,” she says. “We have to listen to what that means, what is the real result of it."
During her weeklong stay in Hiroshima, Braw realized the legacy of the atomic bombing is far from over. Given that the number of survivors is dwindling, she says she feels a greater need to make sure their voices are heard, by “trying to do something for the future, to talk to the students, to encourage them on what they can do.”
Emiko Lenart joins Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio to give more insight into the story.
Shibuya: Emiko, What made Dr. Braw visit Hiroshima this year?
Lenart: It has to do with how, as a writer, she has covered atomic bomb survivors throughout her career. She says that during her visit she rediscovered how the suffering caused by the bomb hasn’t gone away -- even after 70 years. People in Hiroshima face the challenge of how to pass survivors’ messages on to future generations. The number of survivors gets smaller every year. Time is of the essence. Dr. Braw understands that. She‘s trying to serve as a bridge between the survivors and the young people in the world.
Beppu: Writers from Sweden and Swedish leaders have been known for their position promoting nuclear disarmament. Do you think that behind the friendship between the two ladies, Dr. Braw and Mrs. Ogura, there’s a relationship, a connection between Hiroshima and Sweden in terms of policies for nuclear weapons?
Lenart: I do think so. There was a movement as early as the 1950s by the Swedish people against nuclear weapons. But during the Cold War the threat of the Soviet Union caused Sweden to put priority on boosting its defense capabilities. The country actually started a nuclear weapons development program in the late 1940s. But later, Sweden shut down the program and joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1972. Since then Sweden has been in the forefront of efforts to promote nuclear disarmament.
Shibuya: I think it is great that someone from another country is telling the story of Hiroshima. She’s delivering, first hand personal experiences.
Lenart: That’s right. Dr. Braw’s contribution will help young people in the world to form opinions about nuclear issues and give them the information they need to make choices that will lead to a better world. She says she will write a book about what she saw and heard during her trip. She hopes that will help people better understand what happened in Hiroshima.